THE ANCIENT MASJED-I-JÁME’.(The Congregational Mosque)
The oldest mosque in Shiràz, which has survived from far distant centuries is the ancient Masjed Jáme’ which was designed and built in the year 291 A. H. (894 A. D.) in the time of Amr ben Laith Saffar, when he was ruler of Fars. Later in the time of Shah Sheikh Abu’lEsháq Ínjú a square building was erected in the middle of the mosque, and in the time of Safavids various parts of the faience work restored and renewed.
There were two reasons why the princes and kings were interested in the erection of great magnificent mosques and places of worship had been from the remote past a custom of the ancient peoples of the east, which under the ægis of Islam was confirmed. And the other was that mosque and colleges were not only scenes of religious rites, but also places of assembly, where discussion and debate took place and political and social decisions were made, and many of the teachers and scholars of repute conducted their classes in the mosques.
The classes of instruction held in Níshápúr, Balkh, Harát, Baghdád and Fars were famous, and reference to them is found in the ancient histories. From the fourth century of the Hejra onwards in well-known cities colleges were set up, and mosques and colleges were jointly places of instruction, discussion and assembly. In Shiràz also thirty great and important mosques such as the Jáme’ ’Atiq, Masjed-e-Vakil, colleges such as the Madresseh ye Khán, and the Mansúrieh, were built some of which will be described in the appropriate place later.
Among the ancient historians, the author of Nezám uttavárikh the Shiraznámeh and Shadulezár, and other historians have ascribed the actual building to the time of Amr o Laith. Since the part of this buildings which had survived on the western side of the mosque was in danger falling, it was restored by pious and charitable persons about fifteen years ago.
The important, interesting and ancient part of the interior of the mosque is a stone building in the centre of the mosque called, Khudákáneh, «God’s House», or Beit ulunushf, «The House of the Qur’án ». No building of this shape and decoration exists in any other Islamic mosque. It was built by Shah Sheikh Abu’lEsháq Ínjú, King of Fars in the year 752 A. H. (1351 A. D.). The style of the building consists of four cylindrical towers of square dressed white stone at the four corners, and four porches, cach of which has two pillars, between the four towers, and one room in the centre, where the Qur’áns were kept. On the façade of this beautiful building is a raised inscription in the Suls character, which in its own sphere is unique. It was written by Yahyá Aljamáli, the famous calligraphist in the time of Shah Sheikh Abu’lEsháq. In the course of time the greater part of this building, except three of the towers, collapsed. It so happened that the part bearing the date of the building had survived in the inscription above the southern tower, so in recent years through the assistance of the Arehæological Directorate, and with the help of scholars, the original text of the inscription was prepared and restored by competent craftsmen.
The inscription was so cut in white stone that the space surrounding the letters was deeply sunk to allow of the insertion of turquoise glazed tiles. This style of work is termed by Persian craftsmen “islimi”, and means that every detail of the design is separately cut out, and the back-ground is exactly fitted to it. Mosaic work with glazed tiles was used in all the old mosques, but the combination of faience with raised characters in stone is an extremely beautiful and unique feature only to be seen in this mosque.
In addition to the mosaic work referred to, there are sunken stone panels in the porches, in which delicate raised patterns and special designs have been carved. In the lower parts also arabesques were carved in the stone, and all that was found of this was replaced where it belonged.
On the four sides of the mosque extensive buildings and great pillared halls (shabistán) surrounded it, which perhaps formerly occupied a larger area than at present, for certain parts in the past were added by degrees to people’s houses. Moreover there was a free and open space originally in front of the mosque, which was later encroached upon, and built over, with the result that the approaches are now narrow, and the doorways do not appear impressive.
The buildings surrounding the mosque and doorways have several times been damaged by earthquake and natural causes, but they have been repaired. The northern doorway was repaired in the time of the Safavid King Shah Abbás by Emám
Quli Khán, the governor of Fars in the year 1031 A. H. (1621 A. D.). The latest repairs in the past were carried out in the year 1090 A. H. (1681 A. D.) by the governor of Shiràz, Emám Verdi Beg, son of Allah Verdi Beg.
Later in the present day several parts of the north, east and west were completed by individuals, and parts of the Khudákháneh, north doorway and southern section by the Archæological Directorate.
In the southern section there are two great pillared halls each, 20 meters by 20, in the middle of which is another hall, the width of the doorway, eight meters wide and 48 long. At the further end is a «mehráb», prayer niche, and a wooden pulpit with fourteen steps, where services were conducted. The part in front of that was used for sitting and eating. Under the whole of this central room and the two wide pillared halls on either side of it there is a crypt, which is now full of rubbish and is not made use of. The roof of crypt is high, and was decorated in the time of the Safavid King, Shah Suleimán in the years 973 A. H. (1565 A. D) with glazed tiles and mosaic work. The Archæological Directorate is now engaged in repairing it. The old Masjed-i-Jáme’ has six doors of entrance.